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Review: Glacier Express
Developer: SimTrain, Publisher: Aerosoft
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 12 August 2004


Glacier Express is the second release from Simtrain.CH, the people that also brought us the commercial Heidi Express add-on. It covers the same route, just a different part of it - and those who have Heidi Express will appreciate that they have gone the extra few miles and linked the two routes together at Davos.

The Rhatische Bahn route is famous for a particular area along the route from Filisur to Preda, it loops around back on itself all over the place, very sharp gradients and lots of tunnels and viaducts. At Preda the route then finally cuts it's way directly through the mountain for a few kilometers until it finally reaches the other end at Spinas.

The real Glacier Express will be celebrating it's 75th anniversary in 2005 and this product will give you a very good feel for that route, including the area I mentioned above.

Before we move on to further detail in the product, I want to mention the two other routes that are available which cover this area too. One is the aforementinoed Heidi Express, which takes northern route from Landquart to Davos, Glacier Express covers Chur to St. Moritz - a considerably longer route, and also includes a link from Filisur to Davos, thus linking the routes together (though not literally unfortunately) and permitting you to simulate Heidi Express runs from Landquart to Davos and then Davos to St.Moritz if you want to do that. The third route is freeware, the very well respected Albula Line from Michael Vone (author of 'Guide to Route Building', the bible for anyone attempting to build a route). Michael's Albula Line concentrates on the particular area of the route that is most famous (and most tricky to build I would think!) starting from just west of Filisur and ending at Bever just east of Spinas.

Map of Glacier Express
Glacier Express
Map of Heidi Express
Heidi Express
Map of Albula Line from Michael Vone
MV Albula Line

With thanks to Rhatische Bahn for sending me the map

What you get

In the box you'll find a manual written in German, French and English. There are descriptions of the stock, the route and all the activities as well as some tips on how to do better in the activities, it's a tricky route to drive and it's well worth reading these simple tips to help avoid some basic 'gotchas' (like drifting back when starting on a hill and running a red signal that's just behind your last coach).

One of the big things I disliked about Heidi Express was not in the basic product itself ironically, but the security mechanism used to try to prevent piracy. Heidi used the style of protection where it gives you a page, line and word number and you have to tell it what that entry is from the manual. I'm never a fan of treating your loyal and genuine customers as pirates by making them jump through hoops to install your product, especially when pirates can usually quite easily bypass it in one form or another - the only people that are injured by such protection are the genuine users. I am very happy to say that such protection is not included in Glacier Express and it installs very quickly and easily once you have entered a simple serial number that is stuck on to the CD envelope.

The product has been translated in to English and while some of the translations haven't quite worked it is certainly more than enough for anyone to understand what is meant and act accordingly.

The Stock

There is a nice variety of stock included including some very varied coaching stock and even a bit of freight.

  • Ge 6/6 I 412 and 414 - Crocodile
  • Ge 4/4 I 607
  • Ge 6/6 II 703
  • Ge 4/4 II 619, 633
  • Ge 4/4 III 641 (Coop), 642 (100 Years Albula Line), 646 (Swisscom)

The locomotives are all well made with excellent sounds, though I found some of the sounds to be out of balance with the rest - for example as you slow down to a halt the final squeeling made by the wheels is hugely louder than anything else playing at the same time and likewise the horn made me hit the ceiling every time I used it (mind you I had headphones on and maybe turned up a bit too much :) ).

The locomotives all have the same control mechanism to them in the form of a combined throttle / dynamic brake with a separate train brake. I found that once I got the hang of the dynamic brake I could do most of the braking I needed much more smoothly using that and indeed certain points of the route I was just coasting and holding the train within speed limit by applying more or less dynamic brake.

The passenger coaches have got varied passenger views so no matter what train you are driving you'll be able to enjoy the route from the passenger perspective as well - and I spent quite a bit of time in that view, the route is just so gorgeous.

If you want an idea about how the whirly route gets, look at the Ge 4/4 III 642 (Albula 100) - the big white squiggle on the side is not random, it's a map of part of the line between Filisur and Preda!

The only thing that I would have liked to see as additional variants would have been some snow covered versions of the stock, much like others have been including night variants for use in night time activities. The opening screen of the route shows a photograph of a real loco that's covered in snow and it looks so much more correct than in the simulator where you have a bright shiney loco and coaches but outside it's blowing a snow storm. A very minor criticism however.

The Route

The route is extremely pretty, it takes a good couple of hours to drive from Chur to St. Moritz obeying the speed limits - most of which are 50km/h although you'll spend some time at 80/90km/h too. To be honest you are hardly likely to feel that you are going slow, more often than not with the way the route twists and winds constantly you'll be applying too much brake!

I found the journey from Chur to St. Moritz to be extremely enjoyable, the stretch from Chur to Filisur is an easy one and you can do a good chunk of it at 80km/h or 90km/h, the last bit towards Filisur gives you a bit of a glimpse of the way the track is getting very bendy and then finally as you come out of Filisur and run to Preda you'll do the toughest bit of the route with up to 35% gradients.

There are people on the stations, although they are simplified models (anything more would likely kill your frame rates anyway), they are enough to make the world look populated - in fact on one station I even saw one of the people moving around the platform.

Sound has been put to good use on the route, with all the sharp curves on the route trains make lots of squeals and the developers have used sound regions to good effect to add this extra dose of realism, the trains really do squeal around those curves.

Scenery density is very good, there are no blank patches to be found, quite the opposite, while it isn't to the extent of something like Severn Valley Railway, there is always something to look at whether it's in front of you or way above or below you in the mountains or valleys.

The route itself is double track from Chur to Reichenau-Tamins and then the tracks split off, one going to Llanz (not included on the route) and the other heading left towards Thusis, other than the odd bit and some passing points it's then largely a single track affair from here to St. Moritz.

I could go on for ages about how pretty the scenery looks but to be honest I took over 100 screenshots of the route so look at them and judge for yourself!

The Activities

The included activities were quite fun, I've only tried a few of them but there were AI trains, including a number of places that I was held up on a red light while an oncoming train cleared the section. One thing that I did find rather odd was that the majority of the activities are run during the summer with only a couple that run in the Winter.

It's mostly passenger activities although there are a couple of freight activities that use the Crocodile locomotive where you are wandering up the line picking up and dropping off wagons as you go.

There is also an excellent introduction activity which I would strongly recommend users run after they install the product, it introduces you to how the signs work by describing them as you go, taking you through various parts of the route and generally giving you a good understanding of what you are seeing.

Activities for the Bernina Express are also included as are activities covering the second half of the Heidi Express journey that is not possible in the Heidi Express product.

Overall

A very beautiful and picturesque route in real life has been done a very good justice in this Train Simulator add-on. The route presents a challenge to drive while at the same time giving you plenty to look at - the number of times i've gone over speed or ran red lights while testing this route is just too shocking to quote.

Frame rates were constant, the only juddering (and it was quite serious juddering) was entering St. Moritz although altering the camera angle slightly removed almost all of it.

The attention to detail with such things as the squeal sounds as you go around the tight corners really adds to the immersive qualities of the product.

Overall I am very impressed with it and I feel that anyone who is interested in a challenge will enjoy the route. If you want to see what the tricky bit of the route looks like then you can download the Albula Line route from EUTrainSim but it is nice to have all the rest of the route as well to complete the experience.

Final Score:

     

(5 out of 5 Green Lights)

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